Wednesday, November 20, 2019


It never snows in San Francisco. Which you know. And it isn't often that one actually misses snow, but the visuals of a snowed-under urban environment are evocative, if you come from a place where it did snow occasionally. The audibles evoke too. Palloof, palloof, palloof; your footsteps in the fresh layer, compacting it toward the pavement. The soft wiri-wiri of bicycle wheels.
The "otherwise" silence.

North Brabant in the snow at night has beautiful villages. Dusk comes early in winter, and the sparse streetlights illuminate eery vistas of otherworldly white down fading streets to the next light. Market squares are quiet, still, peaceful. Because no one really wants to go outside. The churches on those squares are more spare, more elegant, more sharply shaded.

Karel and I were in the same class, and we had gravitated toward each other because of shared languages and preferences for tobacco. Quite unlike many pipe-smoking Dutch teenagers back then, he much preferred non-aromatics -- Baai tabak (Maryland ribbon blends) when there wasn't enough money at the end of the week for a tin of Dunhill 965 -- and he spoke English and Indonesian as well. My English was naturally better than his, his Indonesian was more fluent. But we both usually spoke Dutch together, though speckled with foreign terms.
Many of those terms were German.
It was an affectation.

He and I were the star students for that language at school.

[For me it was a tin of Balkan Sobranie, on the first day of the week, when money was hot in my pocket; I would happily toddle off to the tobacconist for that fresh tin. But of course Baai tabak if I needed extra money for books. English tobaccos were more than twice the price of Dutch products. That tobacconist is mentioned HERE, by the way. There was a very limited spectrum of English tobaccos in Holland at that time: Dunhill, Capstan, Balmoral, Balkan Sobranie white. Rarely Astley and Rattray.]

I cannot remember the name of the village where he lived. It was on the train-line between Tilburg and Breda, and he stayed with an aunt in Eindhoven during the week for school. One weekend I went to visit him there, and in early afternoon it started snowing. By twilight everything was blanketed, and because his parents had gone to Utrecht for the weekend, and neither one of us were brilliant cooks, we ate out. A small comfy restaurant owned by an Indies couple on the market square, distant kin of his. It was nearly empty, and very quiet. We got a table at the window looking out on the square, where the only patches not covered by snow were dark circles under the row of pine trees in front of the restaurant.

[Unlike many Indonesian eateries, which had cheesy design schemes with wayang puppets and batik patterns in simplistic woodwork, browns, golds, pale ivory, and black, Uncle had chosen greens and yellows, large leafy patterned screens, and white walls, above the wainscotting which ended four feet from the floor. With the high ceiling, the place was different. Calm. It felt spacious despite being small. None of the usual paintings of palm trees, paddies, and volcanoes. Nice.]

Soto ayam: yellow curry chicken soup with noodles, chicken chunks, tauge, and a few large slices of fried potato, plus a halved hardboiled egg in each bowl. Comforting. Especially given how cold it was outside.
Turmeric, ginger, lemon grass, temu kuntji.
Crisp fried shallot shreds on top.
Sambal on the side.
And krupuk.

After we had finished eating, we had coffee. Uncle (the owner) asked "koud hari ini, ja, willen de heren een jenevertje mischien?" ('cold, eh, do the gents want some genever?). Nou, ja. Well, yes. Coffee and genever are a nice combination. But that does rather invite smoking. Is that okay? And of course it was. Uncle sat nearby with his coffee and a small cigar, Karel and I filled our pipes, and the three of us puffed in near-silence while looking out over the wintry scene. Once in a while a pedestrian would pass -- palloof, palloof, palloof -- but otherwise there were no signs of local life.

There was a small bowl of Droste dark chocolate pastilles on the table.
I've always liked dark pure chocolate, it's such a clean taste.

Dunhill Mixture 965 & Balkan Sobranie Standard Mixture.


I had a black purplish straight bulldog pipe in those days.
It was left in behind when I came back to the U.S.

Shortly after six-thirty we paid and departed.
Te'ima kasi, s'lamat pak, s'lamat, s'lamat.

Karel walked with me to the station.

At Eindhoven station I had some coffee in the upstairs restaurant, before catching the bus back to Valkenswaard. By ten fifteen I was having the last pipe of the day at the Bellevue doors down from our house near the church.
I could've gone to the Auberge Central, but the boss there had told me in no uncertain terms that my preference for Balkan Sobranie standard mixture was not winning me any friends, and I should smoke something "nice".
Like Clan, or Amphora.

Dark white winters should always smell like Levantine tobaccos.
And Indonesian spices.

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